Socialising your pup is the most common reason that brings people to training classes.
Everyone wants a dog that can happily walk past and around other dogs, be friendly and safe in various environments and is a pleasure to take out. But there’s something that does not let it happen for some dogs, and over the years I’ve tried to figure out why.
First of all, the dogs are led and guided by people. And let’s have a look at a picture here – are we good enough when it comes to helping our dogs master a skill or attitude and help them to overcome an issue/ situation?
Have you ever been to a dance class for adults for instance? Jive, country, step or salsa dancing? I am sure everyone has some experience of that. Now tell me how similar were the trainees / dancers in the same level group? Were they all able to follow the teacher’s routine? Did their style look the same? Were their timings right the whole time? I personally will never believe you if you said YES to all of the above. People differ in their skills, abilities and ways they master stuff. Some grab all the new material right away, some with a bit of time spent on it, and some look like they have two left feet.
The same applies to dogs, no doubt. Not that there are dogs that cannot be socialised, but there are some dogs that are just not going to learn to interact with other dogs like others, and some that would just never learn to play with other dogs in a socially acceptable way, be it judged by yourselves, other dogs’ owners, or the dogs themselves. And there’s also the handlers’ ability to pick a new full time profession – teaching their dog to respond. Some dogs stop playing after a certain stage in their lives, and are not going to learn to do it again. This is the way the dog world is, like it or not. We can learn to read our dogs, we can learn about their ways, and we can learn about theirs and ours limitations. We can and we should!
Now, do social dogs make it into safe and happy dogs’ category? Not necessarily so. And here’s something that might get your brain to malfunction…
From here – it goes like this. Obedient Yes, Socialised Yes, First category.
Then: Obedient – Yes, Social – No
Thirdly: Obedient – No, Social – No
And lastly: Obedient – No, Socialised – Yes.
Just four ways about it, see what happens in each case, though in reality you will find that all those four categories are intertwined, mixed up a bit, and at times more than that. Read on to see which dogs are OK, and which are not.
An obedient dog with a reliable level of discipline is a good dog already. You can stop it from running away, keep it to heel when passing other dogs on a street, and will be able to make it sit and stay when approached by other dogs. And if you are very good at that training stuff, your dog will learn to freeze, not react when told to do so and trust you in resolving possible conflicts and walk away from troubles when ordered. Socialise it well – and you have a jewel of a hound. But even if this has not happened yet for some reason – you are going to be OK in most circumstances. Practice shows that you can anticipate the trouble, make a right decision, give a right previously taught command, and then help them with a bit of management if absolutely necessary (let’s say, your dog is being attacked and you are picking them up in order to save it, or putting the muzzle on if you just do not want to be bothered). Very good dog, and good enough in both categories – socialised or not, as long as the obedience part has been established and polished up.
Now, let’s talk about the other side of the coin. Your dog just does not do obedience. Or you are not the organised kind of person – order and routine is just not your thing. It does happen, believe you me. I now don’t even bother teaching discipline to someone whose house looks like a bomb went off when I go there for a home visit. Not gonna happen, end of story. And then there are those “favourite” clients of mine that say: “I just want to socialise him with other dogs, that’s it…” Can this be done? Here’s what happens here.
Antisocial dog with no discipline would, on most accounts, try to avoid other dogs, warn them of his/hers discomfort when they walk into their private space, or see them off when nothing else seems to help to stay away from it all. In some rare cases it results in attack of some sort, and often blood is shed. According to some behaviourists and dog psychologists, this happens in less than 1 % of dog to dog attacks. Bad enough still in my opinion, but please feel free to disagree. There’s a reason we don’t get fox (or badger) attacks very often – they are scared of people, and thank goodness for that!
So, an un-disciplined dog with no social manners makes a bad dog. Avoidance that makes these dogs OK does not work when they are on lead though (hence fighting on-leash dogs), and taking a first pop often provokes other dogs and surely upsets the owners, and fighting is just not on, full stop.
OK, we are left with a disobedient dog with socially acceptable manners (I mean acceptable by other dogs). How would you feel if your hound sped up through a park at the site of a dog, or pulled like crazy (and this is how they usually pull) when another hound is walking pass? OK, “I don’t mind”, you’d probably say. Right, follow me now. Your dog plays with one pooch, then spots another one further away, then another one, and before you know it, he’s out of site or in the middle of the road running to greet someone coming in for a walk. Disaster is waiting to happen. Or they run through the picnics and knock a child over while chasing their canine friend. Or jump up or chase a jogger. Climbing on a park visitor’s knees just because he is eating a sandwich ( I love people!.) How bad does it have to be to make the owners realise the potential danger? On top of this, you have a dog that would run up to an aggressive dog and get bitten, and at some point may retaliate or form a fear response to some dogs. Potential for traffic accidents Troubling other park users and causing havoc. Dogs out of control can put you in jail just on the grounds that a judge classifies it as “dangerously out of control”, Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act. And this does happen. I know – this pays quite a significant part of my bills as some of my referrals come from Courts, Police and wardens and council workers
Here’s a little scheme to help you see it the way I do.
Drawing of the Scheme above
Do your math, find yourself a direction to follow, and then look for a person / club to help you, but keep in mind that socialisation does not end with dog-to-dog contacts. It starts there. You will then have to cover roads, traffic, other animals, men, children, footballers, thunder, vet visits, and many, many, many more other things. And learning about it is the most difficult part of the job for the new handlers, not actually doing the job. The actual work is rather pleasant, challenging, and very stimulating for both you and your four-legged trainee.
So – start planning, and happy training!
Keep us posted on your progress, we love hearing happy stories.